Unearthed: Nap Time

The following is a flash fiction piece I wrote when I was 16 for CW 10.

The lights were switched off and the curtains draped over the half­-open windows, filtering the early afternoon light. The ceiling fans droned on and on in their orbit, their motion hypnotic, their sound somnolent. Air heavy with lethargy pervaded the classroom, its walls plastered with watercolored sheets, and hung over rows of desks upon which the children lay slumped, their arms cushioning their heads as they slept—or pretended to. It was naptime, and anyone whom Sister Angie (who had four eyes) caught not sleeping would be told off. And so the children slept—or pretended to. A certain little girl tried to sleep, tried her very best to, but she couldn’t. So she tried to pretend to be sleeping, tried very hard to, and she managed—but only barely. Restless, she squirmed in her seat, her mind filled with the image of the toilet, its smooth, ivory seat, its caves and curves, its well of water, and warm yellow piss gushing into it in furious spurts. Oh, how she wanted to relieve herself! But she did not. She should have been sleeping at the time after all; she did not want to disappoint Sister Angie (who was very kind to her). And so, restless, she squirmed in her seat, and tried to repress the urge to let go (which was so easy really—only, she would have to bear with the wetness and the taunts and the shame)—by squeezing her thighs together, hard. She squeezed them and rubbed them and pressed them together (as she squirmed in her seat, restless) and then an unfamiliar feeling washed over her—throbbing—taut (like a violin string stretched tightly, trembling, quivering as it created sound). She found it strange and strangely pleasurable. The following day found her doing it again (not knowing what it was but hiding it) during naptime, and again the naptime after that, and after that, and so on. And her thoughts wandered beyond the image of the toilet, with its smooth, ivory seat, its caves and curves, its well of water, and warm yellow piss gushing into it in furious spurts.

Metaphors for him and her

  1. He is a vague comment in response to her unvoiced question.
  2. He is a lake seen from a distance on a bright day, a reflection of blue sky, a rippling surface of light, mesmerizing, tempting to dive into, if only she could gauge his depth without jumping in.
  3. She is a room with many windows, all draped with curtains of varying patterns, colors, and weight. Sometimes a closed but unbolted door materializes in a blank wall. He seldom sees the door, and when he does, stands at the threshold, but never enters or knocks.
  4. He is a gibbous moon shrouded in cloud, luminous but eluding plain sight. She never could tell whether he is waxing or waning.
  5. He is a butterfly alighting on a kitten’s nose, fluttering his wings and then flitting away. The kitten gives chase and runs up a tree. She doesn’t know how to climb down.
  6. He is a sailboat moved by wind and wave, and sometimes paddling. She is a safe harbor, but he doesn’t need a wharf, only the open sea and an occasional white-sand beach.
  7. She is an urban center built for business, all pavement and parking and high-rise offices. He is a quake that shatters glass, ruptures concrete, topples iron and steel.
  8. He is both the calm and storm of her grey, unchanging skies.
  9. He is a classic written in a language she does not speak. She is familiar with the story. She knows how it will end. She tries to read the text. There are times when she thinks that she can understand the words. But the intricacies of plot and character, the nuances of imagery, are all lost on her.
  10. They are countries on a map in a changing world. On paper, the demarcations of territory are clear. But the land moves. Boundaries shift. There are disputed rocks and seas. Sometimes, an undocumented traveler sneaks across the border, bearing contraband goods and the luggage of past lives.

Plot Development

After Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”

A.

Longing for you becomes a matter of habit. The alarm clock rings and I spend a minute wondering whether you’ve woken, though I know you haven’t, because you stayed up late last night checking your Gmail and Facebook and Twitter feeds while talking to me. You asked me what time I’d leave for class, and I said after noon (though I always leave early in the morning for the library to work on my thesis on the problems of translation), just so I could spend another hour with you. I get up and go to the common kitchen downstairs, where I pour water into the kettle to boil for my breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee, remembering the last time we chatted over cups of tea. You often ask me for a pot of hot water so you could make us tea, and I wonder whether it’s your excuse to hang out with me, or you just really love taking tea but can’t be bothered to heat water yourself. As I step into the shower, I think of that dream I had where we were walking down the Uni Ave. and I held your hand without hesitation or fear that you would look at me oddly or remind me that you did not like other people touching you. As I dry my hair and tie it into a high ponytail, sweep a stick of tinted balm against my lips, and line the edges of my eyelids with brown pencil, it strikes me that I am tired of waiting on you, waiting for you to want me.

B.

I ask, What am I to you?

    1. You tell me that I’m a good friend, of course. I do not say anything. I can think of nothing to say, at first. Then it all rushes back: the frequent texts about nothing (your roommate snoring, the English prof droning on and on, your computer crashing with your codes, the rising prices of isaw and kikiam, the weird dorm manager who won’t stop humming Disney tunes), the late-night jaunts to the convenience store (once you escorted me at 1 a.m. to buy a pack of sanitary napkins), the dinners and study sessions and weekend movie dates, just the two of us. I spend more time with you than with all of my other friends, combined. We tell each other things we don’t tell anyone else. We share xeroxed readings, mp3 mixes, and pancit and siomai. I begin to say, But I thought we had something special— But you cut me off with, You must have misunderstood.
    2. You tell me that you don’t understand. Would I please explain what I mean? Never mind, I say. Eventually, longing for you becomes a matter of habit until we graduate and drift apart.
    3. You tell me that you like me but that you’re not ready for a relationship right now. I say, That’s alright, neither am I, ha ha, I mean, there’s still my thesis to worry about and all the orgs stuff and the college yearbook, I’m just glad I’m taking only twelve units this sem, hey are you attending the job fair next week?, the words tumbling out of my mouth and tripping over each other. You say you’re glad that I understand, and why don’t we go to the job fair together. I smile and tell myself that at least we have this, whatever this is, though I wonder about the propriety of my saying We. I keep wondering about us—that is, you and me—until my head aches from confusion and longing, until longing for you becomes a matter of habit and confusion attends every word, every act between us (or am I the only one who’s confused?), until one day I decide that I’ve had enough of this madness. I decide I’ve had enough of inconsistent, noncommittal air signs, too.

C.

We carry on as usual.

  1. We stay friends. Eventually, longing for you becomes a matter of habit and I fall in love with somebody else. His name is Vincent, like the painter, so his friends call him Van Gogh. I neither like Vincent (too formal) nor Van Gogh (too pretentious), so I call him V. He is trim, tall, long-haired and bespectacled, dresses exclusively in jeans and plain t-shirts in white, black, or shades of grey, forgets to take off the stubby red pencil tucked over his left ear, and speaks with a gentle, deliberate cadence (like you). Unlike you, he is Piscean, known for their emotiveness and sensitivity.  I meet him at a party where you promised to accompany me but didn’t, and where neither of us knew anyone else. After an awkward attempt at small talk that involved excuses about how we both disliked small talk, we hit it off over shared fascination for astrology, morbid webcomics, and William Blake. He asks for my number, texts me goodnight when he arrives home, and, a couple of days later, takes me to a café slash bookstore slash art gallery and gives me a crash course on Impressionism. I decide that I like him but that I love you. In a last-ditch attempt to get your attention, I tell you that I’m seeing somebody new. You shrug and say, Good for you. I cry the whole night, delete all your messages in my phone, and call up V in the morning to ask whether he’d like to go with me the next evening to an open recital of the nocturnes by Chopin at the College of Music.
  2. We fall in love. The next Christmas, I introduce you to my family. My boyfriend, I say, beaming. You learn the names of all my aunts and uncles and their kids, my parents’ favourite ice cream flavours, and my siblings’ zodiac signs. You play with the dogs and rename one of the puppies from “Patch” to “Poopface.” We spend New Year’s Eve in your province, where I meet what seems to be your entire clan. They chat loudly in a language I don’t understand but code-switch for a while to exclaim that you’d never brought any of your ex-girlfriends to your ancestral house before. A few years later, when we both have master’s degrees, rising careers, money in the bank, and health insurance, you ask me to marry you. I confess that I still have no desire to get married or have kids, and I no longer think that that will ever change. We break up, tearfully. You marry a lovely girl from your hometown, a former high school fling, who gives you four boys and a girl. I get into a PhD program in Languages and Transcultural Studies at a German university, migrate, work for decades in consultancy, author two books, write a column for an online magazine, amass terabytes of East Asian rom-coms, and eventually die alone of cardiac arrest in my rented apartment in Vancouver one cold night just before spring.